Eye of the Beholder

The unemployment and job loss figures that came out earlier this week were the subject of furious spinning, not least by the New York Times. Byron York compares the Times’ reaction to this week’s economic data with its coverage of similar (actually, better) news that came out on the same day in 1992, during the last days of the first Bush administration:

The front page of the New York Times is filled with hope about the nation’s economic situation. The lead story, “Job Losses Slow, Signaling Momentum for a Recovery,” reporting a decline in the unemployment rate from 9.5 percent in June to 9.4 percent in July, begins by declaring that, “The most heartening employment report since last summer suggested on Friday that a recovery was under way — and perhaps gathering steam.”
“Employers are no longer in a panic,” one expert tells the Times. The paper reports that Obama administration officials “credited the stimulus package” for the improvement, and “some said” job losses would be far worse had the $787 billion stimulus not been passed. The paper quotes President Obama saying his administration has “rescued our economy from catastrophe.” …
The Times hasn’t always been so optimistic when it comes to one-tenth-of-a-point declines in the unemployment rate. On this very day in 1992, in the midst of the presidential campaign between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the government also reported that the unemployment rate ticked downward by one tenth of a point, and the Times’ treatment was far more restrained.
“Jobless Rate Dips a Notch to 7.7% in Mixed Showing,” was the front-page headline of the August 8, 1992 Times. “The nation’s jobless rate improved marginally last month, edging down to 7.7 percent from 7.8 percent,” the Times reported. “But the improvement was not enough to signal a stronger economic recovery or to help President Bush as he heads into the Republican National Convention.” Even though the number of jobs actually went up in July 1992 (as opposed to the decline of 247,000 jobs in July 2009), the 1992 Times reported that the economic news “gave no suggestion that the economic recovery was breaking out of its painfully slow pace or, more important, that the job growth was picking up enough to push the unemployment rate down significantly before the election in November.” Pollster Peter Hart told the paper that, “There couldn’t be worse political news for George Bush.”

No surprise there, I guess. Newspaper coverage of economic news is largely driven by politics, and has been for quite a few years. The Times refers to today’s economic climate as the “Great Recession,” evoking comparisons to the Great Depression. They do that in order to reinforce the Obama administration’s view that we are experiencing a crisis that shouldn’t be allowed to go to waste. Here is a more objective look at how today’s economy compares to past recessions:
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The current recession is a relatively bad one, but not yet as deep as the one that Ronald Reagan dealt with in his first term. Reagan reacted with tax cuts and more restrained regulation, and the economy responded magnificently. It is hard to understand how anyone can look objectively at data concerning the current downturn and conclude that it somehow represents a refutation of free enterprise and basis for imposition of state control over much of our economy.
This week’s Times takes seriously the claim that Obama’s “stimulus” plan deserves credit for purported improvement in the job situation, and that “job losses would be far worse” if the bill hadn’t passed. Given that very little of the so-called stimulus money has been spent, and most of that merely transferred to state governments, one might think that evidence would be required to support such assertions. Certainly the unemployment picture hasn’t unfolded anything like what the Obama administration predicted when it projected what would happen with and without the enactment of the pork bill. The reality has been far worse than Obama predicted without any federal “stimulus.”
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The Obama administration will always claim that the economy would have collapsed but for its various interventions, and the liberal media will always take that claim seriously. The banking crisis did lend a unique aspect to the current recession, although it’s hard to say that it posed a worse problem than the inflation of the late 70s and early 80s. But I’ve seen no real evidence that the financial interventions that began during the Bush administration and were expanded under Obama were decisive in averting disaster. And the GM and Chrysler bailouts, the “stimulus” bill, cap and trade, “cash for clunkers” and Obamacare have nothing to do with the banking crisis.
Our economy is recovering, and will continue to recover, from the current recession as it did from the previous ten postwar recessions. The lesson of history is that it will recover faster and more strongly if government interference and control are lessened, not increased.

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